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Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

9 Things to Never Say

9 Things to Never Say

Anybody that knows me even a little would probably be able to tell you that I’m a freak for proper communication. My obsession relates to grammar, spelling, and the ever popular Mom phrase, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”

Whether in business or personal communications, your words not only convey a specific message but also convey your own personality, skill, beliefs, and much more. As a human that cares about others and as an Online Business Management and Virtual Assistant; it is of paramount importance that what I convey tells folks that I care enough to have thought things through. If I had terrible communication skills I would not be a successful mother, entrepreneur, friend, or partner. I found this excellent article and while I may have written it differently, I totally agree with the 9 Things to Never Say.

9 Things to Never Say

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We’ve all said things that people interpreted much differently than we thought they would. These seemingly benign comments lead to the awful feeling that only comes when you’ve planted your foot firmly into your mouth.

Verbal slip-ups often occur because we say things without knowledge of the subtle implications they carry. Understanding these implications requires social awareness — the ability to pick up on the emotions and experiences of other people.
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence (EQ) of more than a million people and discovered that social awareness is a skill in which many of us are lacking.

We lack social awareness because we’re so focused on what we’re going to say next — and how what other people are saying affects us — that we completely lose sight of other people.

This is a problem because people are complicated. You can’t hope to understand someone until you focus all of your attention in his or her direction.

The beauty of social awareness is that a few simple adjustments to what you say can vastly improve your relationships with other people.

To that end, there are some phrases that emotionally intelligent people are careful to avoid in casual conversation. The following are the worst offenders. You should avoid them at all costs.

1. “You look tired.”

Tired people are incredibly unappealing — they have droopy eyes and messy hair, they have trouble concentrating, and they’re as grouchy as they come. Telling someone he looks tired implies all of the above and then some.

Instead say: “Is everything okay?” Most people ask if someone is tired because they’re intending to be helpful (they want to know if the other person is okay). Instead of assuming someone’s disposition, just ask. This way, he can open up and share. More importantly, he will see you as concerned instead of rude.

2. “You always…” or “You never…”

No one always or never does anything. People don’t see themselves as one-dimensional, so you shouldn’t attempt to define them as such. These phrases make people defensive and closed off to your message, which is a really bad thing because you likely use these phrases when you have something important to discuss.

Instead say: Simply point out what the other person did that’s a problem for you. Stick to the facts. If the frequency of the behavior is an issue, you can always say, “It seems like you do this often.” or “You do this often enough for me to notice.”

3. “As I said before…”

We all forget things from time to time. This phrase makes it sound as if you’re insulted at having to repeat yourself, which is hard on the recipient (someone who is genuinely interested in hearing your perspective). Getting insulted over having to repeat yourself suggests that either you’re insecure or you think you’re better than everyone else (or both!). Few people who use this phrase actually feel this way.

Instead say: When you say it again, see what you can do to convey the message in a clearer and more interesting manner. This way they’ll remember what you said.

4. “Good luck.”

This is a subtle one. It certainly isn’t the end of the world if you wish someone good luck, but you can do better because this phrase implies that they need luck to succeed.

Instead say: “I know you have what it takes.” This is better than wishing her luck because suggesting that she has the skills needed to succeed provides a huge boost of confidence. You’ll stand out from everyone else who simply wishes her luck.

5. “It’s up to you.“ or “Whatever you want.”

While you may be indifferent to the question, your opinion is important to the person asking (or else he wouldn’t have asked you in the first place).

Instead say: ”I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but a couple things to consider are…” When you offer an opinion (even without choosing a side), it shows that you care about the person asking.

6. “Well at least I’ve never ___.”

This phrase is an aggressive way to shift attention away from your mistake by pointing out an old, likely irrelevant mistake the other person made (and one you should have forgiven her for by now).

Instead say: “I’m sorry.” Owning up to your mistake is the best way to bring the discussion to a more rational, calm place so that you can work things out. Admitting guilt is an amazing way to prevent escalation.

7. “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight!”

Once again, a well-meaning comment — in this case a compliment — creates the impression that you’re being critical. Telling someone that she has lost a lot of weight suggests that she used to look fat or unattractive.

Instead say: “You look fantastic.” This one is an easy fix. Instead of comparing how she looks now to how she used to look, just compliment her for looking great. It takes the past right out of the picture.

8. “You were too good for her anyway.”

When someone severs ties with a relationship of any type, personal or professional, this comment implies he has bad taste and made a poor choice in the first place.

Related: 10 Misused Words That Make Smart People Look Stupid

Instead say: “Her loss!” This provides the same enthusiastic support and optimism without any implied criticism.

9. “You look great for your age.”

Using “for your” as a qualifier always comes across as condescending and rude. No one wants to be smart for an athlete or in good shape relative to other people who are also knocking on death’s door. People simply want to be smart and fit.

Instead say: “You look great.” This one is another easy fix. Genuine compliments don’t need qualifiers.

Bringing It All Together

In everyday conversation, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Try these suggestions out, and you’ll be amazed at the positive response you get.

 
 

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Why Henry Ford’s Most Famous Quote is Dead Wrong

Why Henry Ford’s Most Famous Quote is Dead Wrong

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Most folks are aware of my love for Harley Davidson motorcycles. Most folks know Henry Ford was a 4-wheeled entrepreneur, but they may not know he was involved in Harley Davidson’s formative years. And being from the south where “Spanish Moss” grows heavily, I have a quirky tickle that Ford used this natural resource to stuff his automobile seats. And so, when I saw Henry Ford in the title of this article, I had to click it and read more. In particular, I found this paragraph thought provoking:

“While your customers may not know the form factors available to them (that’s where you as a business can innovate), they often understand their problems, or can, at minimum, communicate enough information so that you can use customer feedback appropriately to grow your business.”

As an Online Business Manager and Virtual Assistant, my clients come to me knowing they need help in this, that, or the other area; yet they don’t always know what’s involved in making their vision come to life. This is actually the best part of my job – taking a client’s vision and surprising them with exceptional results they didn’t even know were possible.

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Henry Ford was one of the world’s great innovators and a quotable gentleman at that, particularly in the realms of business and innovation. Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to Ford is this: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

While there’s no real proof Ford ever said this, the words are still applied to him as proof that true innovation is done without customer input. But, even if one of the most successful businessmen in American history had said it, it wouldn’t make the maxim any more applicable.

In fact, customers would probably have told Ford exactly what they wanted — specifically, a faster mode of transportation. They might not have mentioned the need for a combustion engine, but that’s part of the art and science of understanding customer feedback.

While your customers may not know the form factors available to them (that’s where you as a business can innovate), they often understand their problems, or can, at minimum, communicate enough information so that you can use customer feedback appropriately to grow your business. Here’s how.

Ask good questions.

Often, customers know what they want, but don’t know how to articulate it. So, ask specific questions that allow you to glean insights to use for your innovation. For example, using multiple-choice questions (with an option for “other” and space to write in an answer) is a good way to survey your customers. Studies show that giving a customer too many choices often nets you poor feedback, but it’s also important to give them the opportunity to bring up something you haven’t anticipated.

You should also ask about their personal or business problems. If you are selling and innovating with technology for small businesses, don’t ask features-based questions, because most small business customers aren’t thinking about technology features. They are trying to make more money, save time, save costs, etc. So, ask questions around their problems and then bridge the gap with your innovation — much like Ford did.

Study behavior and numbers.

Numbers and behavior are more reliable feedback indicators than words alone. If your customers say they love a product in green, but they keep buying blue, stick with the blue. Be relentless in studying your data and behaviors to make sure that their words match their actions.

Beware of the vocal minority.

While it’s important to look at feedback, including from online channels and customer service, you need to delve into who is giving that feedback. For example, if you are getting posts about a problem, make it’s a real problem. If it doesn’t exist, ignore it.

The same goes for wants. A handful of people may be squeaky wheels about a personal want, but that doesn’t mean the broader base of customers wants it, so do more research.

Also, check for minions. Are the same group of people always asking for something or complaining together? If so, they may be just a co-dependent group of trolls. If you are seeing different customers giving feedback and input around the same issues, that is more likely to be reliable than many posts or asks from the same group of people. The exception to this is when the group is considered influential among your customer base.

It’s usually a good trick to solicit your feedback through private polls instead of public ones so your community isn’t swayed by the vocal minority.

Sample a relevant group.

Reach out to your best existing and desired target customers to get a broader scope of feedback. If you aren’t sure what your customers think, ask a meaningful number of them. Shockingly, customers are more likely to give you feedback if you actually ask them (and if they feel like offering it will ultimately benefit them). But, make sure that they are truly buyers — if responders aren’t going to buy your product, their responses don’t help you or them.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2017 in Entrepreneurship

 

5 Habits of Successful People Before 8 a.m.

5 Habits of Successful People Before 8 a.m.

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5 Habits of Successful People Before 8 a.m.

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I found this article and while it has some useful information, I do believe that effective habits are not “one size fits all”. As an Online Business Manager and Virtual Assistant, I practice these basic habits but with a little different approach. I hope you find value in these tips and tweak them for your own success.

The difference between successful people and everyone else is the way they utilize time. With only so many hours in a day, you need to maximize those hours. The best of the best are up early and getting to work before their peers have rolled out of bed. So, what are the top five habits of successful people before 8 am?

1. Use a real alarm clock.
You might look at this tip and wonder what difference it really makes. A real alarm clock forces you to get out of bed. For example, if you use your phone as an alarm clock all you have to do is reach over and press the screen. Unsurprisingly, most people take five more minutes.

But if the alarm clock is on the other side of the room, you’re forced to get out of bed. Furthermore, using a real alarm clock discourages you from checking social media and wasting precious time.

I don’t know about you but I haven’t owned a ‘real alarm clock’ in ages. I do use my iPhone as an alarm, not only for waking up, but as extra insurance to really important meetings, calls, or actions I need to take. I set my alarm 15 minutes before I dedicate my foot to hit the floor. Yes, I do snooze but I am not falling back to sleep. I use a tone that is loud enough to wake me but not a shrill or obnoxious noise (like nails on a chalkboard).

2. Take some time to breathe.
Successful people don’t leap out of bed and head for the computer. They understand the importance of reducing stress and relaxing. More often than not, they’re the people enjoying a cup of coffee or reading a book before they get started with the day’s work.
Rituals like this will enable you to clear your head and get yourself in the right state of mind for the day ahead.

I sort of giggled at this one… With only one leg, I don’t “leap” anywhere. I have by default slowed my roll so to speak. The routine of putting my prosthetic on allows me a couple of minutes to be thankful each morning, giving me motivation to make this day a great day. Then I usually head straight for the coffee pot.

3. Set out your clothes the night before.
Setting out your clothes for the next day is a sign of an organized mind. It means the next day is going to be all about what you’re going to do, rather than focusing on trivial matters. This will save you time the next day and enable you to maximize every single minute.

Being a Virtual Assistant I can work from anywhere and still be in my jammies. But when I was in the corporate world of proper dress, traffic jams, and shared offices; I did select my clothes the evening before. Now I will grant you that if I have a video conference, I do get cleaned up and dressed. Your appearance says a lot about you, so be comfortable and dress according to who your profession.

4. Get in a workout.
Fitness is important for your health. Successful people prioritize a workout for another reason though. Exercise is scientifically proven to get those endorphins racing. Endorphins are the happy drugs that your brain produces in certain circumstances, and one of them is exercise.

It doesn’t have to be a sweaty, exhausting workout. It could involve some gentle minutes on an exercise bike, a short jog or a yoga session. Find something that works for you.

I have a habit of doing 3 small workouts during the day and even sometimes a few stretches when I need a break from sitting in my desk chair. When I was in the corporate world I even learned a few stretches that can be done standing at a copy machine, standing in your office, and even sitting in my desk chair.

5. Read something you enjoy.
We mentioned earlier how successful people tend to read when they get up early. They don’t watch TV or catch up on work emails. Reading gets the brain working, and it improves comprehension. But reading something negative or something boring, such as that email from your boss, sets a tone for the day.

Consider starting off the day with a self-improvement book or something that you can learn from. For example, if you’re interested in financial news start with that.

I read for a living so it’s sometimes hard to really get involved in a good book or magazine. I do however like to spend about an hour each day reading online news and articles that relate to motorcycling, entrepreneurship and educational materials for marketing. I close out most of my days reading my Highway for Hope Bible but you can read whatever you like, of course. Perhaps consider closing your day with a self improvement book, an industry magazine, or something that makes you smile.

Together these rituals are going to keep you healthy and productive, setting a positive tone for the day ahead. Don’t try to implement these changes all at once. Some minor changes implemented gradually will help you to adjust to your new morning routine.

 

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4 Marketing Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From April the Giraffe

4 Marketing Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From April the Giraffe
I’ll be honest and tell you that I had not heard of April until I saw this article. Scratching my head at the title referencing a giraffe and entrepreneurs; I just had to click the link out of pure curiosity. Sure enough, you can take some good lessons away from April’s story.

In particular, this quote really grabbed me and made me knod in appreciation. “…from the seed of an idea through execution, do what you do well. You never know just how many people will be watching.”

Most folks know I lost part of my leg in a motorcycle accident. Social media in many forms have taken me farther than I ever could have imagined. From folks following the dream I live, to folks supporting my struggles, and from making my Online Business Management and Virtual Assistant network thrive; I have been down before, but never for very long. The internet and the people behind the screens have truly inspired, supported, and sought my advice in many capacities.

4 Marketing Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From April the Giraffe

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The internet has recently been taken over by a very tall and overly pregnant lady.

You may have heard of her. Her name is April. April the Giraffe. This chick has taken over the internet, with pregnant human women going viral for impersonating her.

April is a powerful woman, as I assume most pregnant women are.

Almost 100,000 people are tuning in on YouTube at any given minute to see if she’s birthed her fourth calf yet. When someone or something can garner the accumulative attention of millions, it’s worth taking note.

And while April is undeniably powerful, she is not nearly as powerful as the creative team behind her at Animal Adventure Park. Here are four lessons you can borrow from Animal Adventure Park to spark your own sensation.

1. Your ordinary is someone else’s extraordinary.
You frequently forget there are things you find common and ordinary that others simply find extraordinary. This is the main basis for why Animal Adventure Park’s livestream has captivated so many, hitting headlines daily for over a week. Giraffes give birth on a regular basis. Or, at least I assume so.

Since April has been livestreaming, two other baby giraffes have been born stateside. For zookeepers, a giraffe having a calf is ordinary. Yet, for the general population, a giraffe having a calf is extraordinary. What is your ordinary that others would find extraordinary?

2. Utilize the tools you have at your fingertips.

I imagine it went something like this: April’s caretakers were talking about the upcoming birth, and someone nonchalantly mentioned, “Perhaps we could livestream it for people to see.”

The tools were already there to livestream. They just decided to use them unlike any other zoo had. Well played, Animal Adventure Park. What tools are you not taking full advantage of?

3. Start before you’re “ready.”

What I don’t think many people understand is that Animal Adventure Park isn’t even open yet. It’s bloody brilliant! There is so much press and news coverage about this business, and it hasn’t even opened its doors for day one.

That’s solid proof there is business genius in starting before you feel ready. With a well-thought out plan, anything is possible. It’s not about waiting until it’s perfect. It’s about knowing how to execute effectively. Where can you begin executing while still perfecting?

4. Don’t forget a call to action.

An imperative part of doing business is making it extremely easy for people to buy or support you. I was so impressed to find in the description on Animal Adventure Park’s live stream video that they did not forget a call to action.

Even better, they gave two! Take your pick to support the organization: Download GiraffeMoji for $1.99 from the App Store, or simply donate to the organization’s GoFundMe page. (As of this writing, it’s just shy of the $50,000 goal.)

What a failure it would have been to have that many people at your fingertips without an easy way for people to engage with the business. Yet, it’s a common business mistake.

Animal Adventure Park, well, they hit it out of the park with April. I doubt they thought it would blow up quite like it has or that there would be April the Giraffe memes, pregnant women imitating April, or people actually angry because her labor is taking “too” long. Cut the poor lady a break!

Here’s what they do know. First, pregnancy is magical, and it can captivate any mammal. Second, from the seed of an idea through execution, do what you do well. You never know just how many people will be watching.

 

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Marketing 101: Metrics

Marketing 101: Metrics

With an Online Business Management and Virtual Assistant Network like The Write Hand, LLC; you get top quality services that produces results you can see.  We hope you enjoy this article’ it could be quite useful across most businesses.

Marketing 101: Metrics

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In today’s world, nearly everything can be measured by metrics: Facebook likes, Twitter followers, YouTube views, etc. In a world of big data, metrics drive our behavior, but in sixteen years in business, “metrics” is a word I’ve come to hate. Although metrics can be great in determining ad or website performance, when it comes to overall marketing efforts, focusing on metrics alone may be what kills your marketing plan.

In fact, focusing on metrics can make you lose sight of your overall goals. Most great marketing successes, regardless of your product, are the cumulative result of multiple actions. You can’t depend on a direct measure of success from every single action, otherwise you would get stuck in your tracks early on. Planting and cultivating seeds takes time.

If it’s not working, maybe you’re doing it wrong

Something important to keep in mind is that sometimes marketing efforts don’t work because they are not being done correctly. You may need to put some time and effort into researching the meaning behind your dismal metrics. Could your blogging be ineffective because you have misidentified your potential audience? Have you run out of things to say? If that’s the case, start researching four to six successful companies with a similar audience. Whether you’re researching the kinds of questions they answer with their blog or what they’re doing in terms of their blog and social media, you may find some great information. Maybe there are social media sites that you should be on and aren’t, or vice versa. If you look at four to six companies in your market, you’ll start to see a trend of what’s working for them.

Bottom up marketing

Another problem with blindly following metrics can be saying no to opportunities that may benefit you in the long run. One of my favorite strategies is “bottom up marketing.” Mark Victor Hanson, one of the master minds behind the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, is a great example. He did every radio interview and never turned down a single opportunity; he and his co-author built an entire empire through bottom up marketing. It’s worth your while to allow exposure to build on itself and lead to success. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way (within reason), no matter how small the blog or podcast. We all want to be on The Tonight Show, but let’s face it, everyone has to start somewhere.

Stop doing stuff that doesn’t matter

Focus on the most effective ways to spend your time and money. Often, we fall into the habit of implementing marketing efforts because they’re easy. Running ads, for example, can be easy, and may feel productive. But ads should be compelling and give the viewers something to act on. The same is true for press releases.

Be realistic with your pitching efforts. Put plenty of effort into crafting a pitch that shows you researched the outlet, and have carefully considered how your product fits. Pitching yourself to national shows when you are just starting out may not be the most efficient use of your time. Remember what I said about bottom up marketing.

Coordinate your marketing efforts

One of the quickest ways to kill a product is to not promote it; the other is to only do one thing at a time to see which one gives you the most bounce. Although testing your efforts separately to see how effective they are can be appealing, the problem with this is that it’s all metric-driven instead of building momentum. Marketing by doing one thing at a time and then waiting to see what comes of the action you took is the surest way to fail. Do a lot of things (or several, if you’re short on time) and do them consistently.

Slow and steady wins the race

Inconsistency is one of the big reasons for failure. It goes back to my “say yes to everything” advice; let your marketing efforts build, understand what your audience wants, and be consistent. If you’re short on time, find a few things that are an effective use of your time and do them well.

People like what other people like

Reviews are something you should always pursue, no matter how old your product or service. Testimonials and reviews are almost as good as a personal word-of-mouth recommendation. Why? Because people like what other people like.

Ultimately, metrics are a powerful tool, but instead of focusing on each effort’s individual metrics, it’s best to take review your metrics with some perspective. When planning your marketing efforts, I urge you to emphasize consistency. Use metrics as a tool to identify areas that can be improved, and allow some time for your marketing efforts to build on one another. Success is rarely the direct result of one action, but rather the accumulation of many efforts.

 

 

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How to Master the Art of the First Impression

How to Master the Art of the First Impression

How to Master the Art of the First Impression

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Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at the Harvard Business School, has been studying first impressions for more than a decade. She and her colleagues found that we make snap judgments about other people that answer two primary questions:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person’s capabilities?

According to Cuddy’s research, 80 to 90 percent of a first impression is based on these two traits. Subconsciously, you and the people you meet are asking yourselves, “Can I trust that this person has good intentions toward me?” and “Is this person capable?”

We often assume that competence is the most important factor, and people have a tendency to play this up when they meet someone; however, Cuddy’s research shows that trust is the most important factor. In order for your competence to matter, people must trust you first. If there’s no trust, people actually perceive competence as a negative. As Cuddy said, “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve achieved trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

How to Master the Art of the First Impression

Since it only takes seconds for someone to decide if you’re trustworthy and competent, and research shows that first impressions are very difficult to change, the pressure that comes with meeting new people is justifiably intense.

If you try to project confidence but haven’t first established trust, your efforts will backfire. No one wants to end up respected but disliked. As Cuddy said, “If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion, because you come across as manipulative.”

Once you recognize the importance of trustworthiness over competence, you can take control of the first impressions you make. Here are some tips to help you make that happen the next time you meet someone new:

1. Let the person you’re meeting speak first.

Let them take the lead in the conversation, and you can always ask good questions to help this along. Taking the floor right away shows dominance, and that won’t help you build trust. Trust and warmth are created when people feel understood, and they need to be doing a lot of sharing for that to happen.

2. Use positive body language.

Becoming cognizant of your gestures, expressions, and tone of voice and making certain they’re positive will draw people to you like ants to a picnic. Using an enthusiastic tone, uncrossing your arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning towards the speaker are all forms of positive body language, which can make all the difference.

3. Put away your phone.

It’s impossible to build trust and monitor your phone at the same time. Nothing turns people off like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When you commit to a conversation, focus all your energy on the conversation. You will find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself in them.

4. Make time for small talk.

It might sound trivial, but research shows that starting meetings with just five minutes of small talk gets better results. Many trust builders, such as small talk, can seem a waste of time to people who don’t understand their purpose.

5. Practice active listening.

Active listening means concentrating on what the other person is saying, rather than planning what you’re going to say next. Asking insightful questions is a great way to illustrate that you’re really paying attention. If you’re not checking for understanding or asking a probing question, you shouldn’t be talking. Not only does thinking about what you’re going to say next take your attention away from the speaker, hijacking the conversation shows that you think you have something more important to say. This means that you shouldn’t jump in with solutions to the speaker’s problems. It’s human nature to want to help people, but what a lot of us don’t realize is that when we jump in with advice or a solution, we’re shutting the other person down and destroying trust. It’s essentially a more socially acceptable way of saying, “Okay, I’ve got it. You can stop now!” The effect is the same.

6. Do your homework.

People love it when you know things about them that they didn’t have to share. Not creepy stuff, but simple facts that you took the time to learn from their LinkedIn page or company website. While this may not work for chance encounters, it’s crucial when a first meeting is planned ahead of time, such as a job interview or a consultation with a potential client. Find out as much as you can about all the people you’re meeting, their company, their company’s primary challenges, and so on. This demonstrates competence and trustworthiness by highlighting your initiative and responsibility.

Bringing It All Together

It’s the little things that make a first impression a good one, and the importance of establishing trust cannot be overstated. Now if someone would just tell this to the politicians!

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in Entrepreneurship

 

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What the Stars of Impractical Jokers Can Teach You About Team Work and Risk

What the Stars of Impractical Jokers Can Teach You About Team Work and Risk

What the Stars of Impractical Jokers Can Teach You About Team Work and Risk

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The indignities mount. First, Murr is told that he has to compete in a bodybuilding competition. And to be clear, Murr is nobody’s definition of fit. Stripped down to an American flag Speedo, he looks like a fillet of cod — a soft, slender, floppy whiteness untouched by the sun. Next, his three best friends — Joe, Sal and Q — oil him up and spread on a nice layer of bronzer. Murr seems amused. He’s done worse with these guys: He’s faced off alone against a professional dodgeball team, he’s been stuffed inside a piñata and hung from a crane and he’s even had his nipple pierced. So twitching in front of guys who could bench-press him? Sure, why not.

Murr is waiting with a bunch of meatheads when his name is called. He is led down a hallway and toward a door. As it opens, you can see him thinking through his next move. He’ll channel Schwarzenegger, make his buddies laugh and then —

Oh, God. There’s no bodybuilding competition in this room. There’s just a woman — a very beautiful, very familiar woman — sitting in a chair. Murr knows he’s being filmed, just like he knows his three best friends are watching his face drop; he can hear them through the earpiece he’s wearing, and they’re dying of laughter. What has he walked into?

This is how it goes on Impractical Jokers, the show in which four buddies compete to embarrass each other, or at least to endure their own humiliation. The show’s setup is simple: One guy goes out — into a supermarket or a crowded art gallery or wherever — wearing an earpiece, while his three buddies hang back, watching the action on a TV screen. The three feed instructions through a microphone, and the guy out in the field must do whatever they say. They’re all real friends, and they routinely weaponize their deep knowledge of each other — flaws, personal insecurities, past crushes and more. They know every time the other guy has been drunk. They have access to every soft spot, every cringe button and they use it all mercilessly. How is Impractical Jokers not just a half-hour series of these guys punching each other in the face? It’s a miracle.

It’s also a hit. The show began nearly six years ago as a modest screwball comedy but has grown into a mainstream phenomenon and the hottest thing on TruTV’s lineup. Impractical Jokers is a top-five show on cable in its time slot. In 2010, the guys filmed the pitch episode on their iPhones; this February, their sixth season debuted. They draw 1.6 million viewers a week. The show is number one on Comedy Central in the United Kingdom and India, and it’s in roughly 70 other international markets, airing both original tape and spinoffs with a local cast.

But do not dismiss them as a bunch of made-for-TV goofballs. Take a close look at the opening sequence of Impractical Jokers and you might notice a show bill in the background that reads “Featuring the Tenderloins.” This — the name of their four-man comedy troupe — is their true core, and their future. Jokers will stay around however long the television gods bless it with good ratings. But the Tenderloins are built to last. “The Tenderloins are a creative force for hire,” Murr says. That means making TV shows, movies, books and more. The way they see it, Impractical Jokers is just their first big hit. They also have a successful touring business that plays arenas around the world. Last year, they sold out three straight nights in a row at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and they just wrapped up a nine-day swing in the United Kingdom that sold 100,000 seats. The tickets always say “The Tenderloins.”

And yet, the Tenderloins are successful for the same reason the Jokers are successful. These four guys have mastered the art of working together as a team. They are consistently open, honest and vulnerable with each other — something that’s hard for anyone to do, let alone leaders of a company. It isn’t always easy for them, either. But it’s the only path forward. And it’s working.

So, about the woman in the chair: That’s Danica McKellar, forever known as Winnie from The Wonder Years — and, critically, Murr’s childhood celebrity crush. He has always wanted to meet her. His pals know it. And now he’s doing it in the most humiliating way. “You have to interview her!” Joe screams into a microphone, and so Murr shuffles over toward McKellar, nearly oil-slips off a stool he tries to sit on, and picks up some cue cards he’s been left. The final indignities begin.

“You’re America’s sweetheart. I’m America’s douchebag,” he reads aloud. “What would America call our baby?”

McKellar looks at him in a way she never did to Kevin Arnold, even in his most selfish, most adolescent of times. Because here instead is Murr, glistening like an Exxon-Valdez disaster.

“A mistake,” she replies. The guys backstage lose it. Q just starts swatting at the air, delirious.

Yeah, they have full names. Joseph “Joe” Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Salvatore “Sal” Vulcano. They’re grown-ass men, too: They’re all 40. But on Impractical Jokers, and to each other, and therefore to their fans, they’re just one-syllable pals.

This show was not the foursome’s original plan. They grew up on Staten Island and met in their all-boys Catholic high school’s improv troupe, then went their separate ways for college and found real jobs. Joe became a personal shopper at a baby store called Giggle. Murr was a freelance TV producer. Q became a firefighter. Sal ran a bar. But they reassembled in their hometown as young professionals with a dream: They’d form a troupe called the Tenderloins and become successful comedians together.

The Tenderloins had a few hits on MySpace, posting sketch comedy videos. They won a few awards. In 2000, they were accepted into a showcase called PS NBC, which the network used to scout new talent. They hoped this would be their big break, and after their set, Murr asked the producer how it went. “You guys are funny, but you’re not ready,” he replied. “You don’t have a point of view, and you haven’t lost enough yet.’”

Murr spent years puzzling over that statement. You don’t have a point of view. A little while later, the guys sold a sketch comedy show to Spike TV. Finally, that big break? No. The show never made it to air. Murr returned to the producer’s critique and realized the guy was right. The Tenderloins had talent, sure, but no point of view — and talent wasn’t enough. “We didn’t know the right format for what we do,” Murr says now. “We didn’t know the best way to put our comedy forward to the world.”

By this time, Murr’s TV career had grown. He’d become the senior vice president of development for a production company called NorthSouth, and his job was to write treatments for hundreds of shows. He learned what sold and, importantly, what didn’t. And the secret wasn’t really different from selling any other kind of product: It isn’t enough to just make something good or pleasing. It must be necessary — a thing you know people will want, because you have a unique insight about what makes it work.

After five years of TV development, Murr felt he had the insight.
It was 2010. Hidden-camera shows had made a comeback, but everyone did them the same way — prank an unsuspecting civilian or celebrity. Boring. And also, kind of uncomfortable. But what if the format was flipped, and the people being pranked were always in on the joke? That way, the audience might see the whole thing differently.
And the Tenderloins were holding an ace: They were real friends. That wasn’t something they could leverage in a sketch comedy show, but it presented an opportunity now. If they put themselves at the center of a hidden-camera show — as old pals, making the antics a part of their lives — their chemistry and comedy would be organic. They’d push each other, sure, but this wouldn’t go into Jackass territory. The guys could always bail on a challenge if they wanted to. “This is not a show about what we’ll do,” Murr says. “It’s a show about what we won’t do — that we’re gentlemen, we’re regular guys putting ourselves in these crazy situations, but we have faults and weaknesses.”

For example, in one episode, Joe is sent to pose as a consultant at a wedding dress store. One of his buddies tells him to look at the bride and say, “What style was your first wedding dress?” Joe grimaces. It’s just too mean, and he can’t do it. “Now, this one’s flowy,” he says, scrambling for something else to say. And it’s good TV. In fact, it’s better TV than if Joe had actually said the line — because this way, the audience gets to laugh at the joke, then laugh at Joe for not saying the joke, and nobody is ever made to feel bad.

“It was the first time ever we strategically approached our career,” Murr says. And in doing so, the Tenderloins finally found their point of view. Theirs is old-friend comedy — familiar and natural, lovingly mocking and occasionally too personal in that way only old friends can pull off. It’s a style that reminds people of their own old friends, and invites audiences to feel like part of their crew. And now they wondered: Could this brand of comedy scale? They bet yes.

The foursome oversee all aspects of the TV and live show, as well as any extensions they build out, like an annual cruise for fans. And they’ve decided to run everything as a pure democracy. There is very intentionally no leader of the group; there are four co-CEOs, so to speak. This could be a recipe for chaos, but Sal says they’re helped out by something that, not coincidentally, is now a favored team-building exercise among the corporate set: improv. “When we used to do improv, you’d have to learn how to listen and contribute and not talk over each other and learn timing, and you fall into roles where that permeates in your regular life as well,” he says. “So when the four of us operate as a unit, you learn how to contribute and when to take your role.”

The roles tend to fall like this, according to Sal: Murr gravitates toward business; Joe, production and crew; Sal and Q, the creative side. But this isn’t to say they defer to each other on these subjects — which Sal sees as a useful thing. “For whatever topic we’re talking about, we don’t leave any stones unturned,” he says. “I’m all about dissecting everything. I like that by inherently having to make a group decision, you’re really thorough. And I have a lot more confidence with a decision going forward if I know it’s been thorough.”

The four men are unabashedly in love with each other. They always refer to each other as “best friends.” In interviews last year, they all said they’d known each other for 26 years. This January, unprompted, they said 27 years. Which is to say: They’re counting. But as anyone who has built a company with loved ones knows, work can test even the strongest of relationships. And the Tenderloins’ greatest achievement has been creating a working relationship that doesn’t overtake their friendship.

The partnership was challenged early. While filming the first two seasons, Sal was still running his bar in Staten Island and Q was a New York City fireman. Both would go stretches with very little sleep. Q would sometimes be driving the fire truck and pull up next to a bus with his face on it, prompting mockery from his colleagues. And as the show took off and consumed more of his time, Q felt conflicted. He loved being a fireman. “It’s the best job in the world,” he says. He even asked TruTV what would happen if he left the show. The answer: They’d cancel Jokers. “What am I going to do?” he says, the tension of that time still in his voice. “I can’t do that to these guys; you know what I mean?” Ultimately, he took a hiatus from the department.

And complications continue to this day. It was evident off-stage last May, when the Tenderloins played a night at the Bell House, in Brooklyn.

The venue is just a little bar with a theater in the back. Before doors open, perhaps 50 fans form a line that nearly snakes out the door. When the four guys take the stage, they open the way they always open these little shows — by explaining that it may not be funny, because they’re working out new material. The most important thing in the room is actually a camera in the back, filming what happens over the next 90 minutes. True to warning, what follows is decently funny but often flat. They do two shows a night like this, for about 20 nights, at clubs scattered around New York. During that time, they’ll watch the footage and catalog all the jokes spreadsheet-style, then workshop what’s successful and what isn’t. And this is how they build a show that will eventually be performed in arenas.

All comedy, to be a total buzzkill, is a product. And that means it needs R&D. But no matter the task, it would be impossible to expect four people to prioritize this level of meticulousness the same way. That’s a burden Sal feels on his shoulders.

“So this six months, I have literally major, major anxiety until we get that show right,” Sal says before the club performance. He’s a man of lists and overanalysis; he sweats the details. And some of his anxiety, he admits, comes from the other guys, who aren’t nearly as nervous as he is. He is often nagging them — Come on; we need to work on the show. “The people I respect the most are my peers, my fellow comedians. I want their respect. It’s my whole life. And I don’t know if the other guys feel the exact same way about that, so that’s why this weighs particularly heavy on me.”

The four guys have their blowups, sure. It’s inevitable; they’re together almost every day. But that has taught them to navigate the storms. Each one can play a role as mediator. Each one has also learned what to let go — what just isn’t worth a fight. And during the peaceful periods (which, they want to be clear, is most of the time), they’re constantly showing each other goodwill, picking up each other’s slack, saying, Take a break; I got this. It’s a reminder that everyone is equal, that everyone has each other’s back.

This gives Sal comfort, even when the other guys aren’t focused in the way he’d like them to be. “Murray’s attitude, for better or for worse, is, Eh, it’ll get done. It’s almost like he doesn’t care; that’s how it comes across,” Sal says. “But to his credit, everything has always worked out.”

Company leaders often do this rhetorical dance where they’ll insist that their business is something broader and more abstract than it appears to be. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes says, “We’re a customer service company that happens to fly planes.” Uber founder Travis Kalanick says, “We’re a robotics company.” Google the phrase “We’re a technology company” and you’ll find it uttered by Mark Zuckerberg, yes, but also by the heads of farms and music labels and more. But this isn’t a trick. It’s a vision for a company’s future — an acknowledgment that its current product cannot last forever but that the business has something more fundamental at its core.

That’s why Murr says the Tenderloins are “a creative force for hire.” It’s how four friends can continue to work together.

Of the four, only Joe seems to fully embody the Jokers’ style of comedy itself. Some gags on the show, in fact, have come out of things he does in real life to make people laugh. There’s a bit called nosing, when Joe walks up to a stranger and rests his nose on their shoulder. He came up with that in high school. He’s fearless. “Outside the show, I’ll still do it,” he says. “I’ll hear from them at least three times a week: Joe, we’re not filming; what are you doing?”

The rest are a multitude of ambitions. Q loves darker comedy and comic books; he cohosts a popular podcast called “Tell ’Em Steve-Dave!,” which has nothing to do with his Staten Island pals. Sal does his own stand-up. Murr imagines writing thrillers and novels one day.

But “a creative force for hire” gives them a North Star, and a purpose big enough to satisfy them all. The Tenderloins are already growing beyond the Jokers. They’ve developed and sold numerous TV shows — one to Spike TV, one to A&E. Last year, they made a comedy game show pilot and shopped around a scripted comedy. “On the one hand, we want to seize the opportunities that are in our lives right now,” Murr says. “On the other hand, we need to grow beyond that as well.”

That’s the thing about a team: You bring it together, you sacrifice for it, you accept that resolving the bad times can only lead to more good times. And once you have a point of view, and you’ve lost enough to know what’s worth keeping, and you confirm that you are better together, then you move forward as one. You create a mission, so everyone feels committed. You become bound by ambition, and the sense that it’s only accomplishable together. That’s the Tenderloins’ plan. Keep the team.

In what felt like another lifetime ago, back in 2011, Impractical Jokers had just started airing, and an aw-shucks Iowan with a nasty cough named Jeff Johnson began booking them in in, of all places, America’s Corn Belt. One night, after the biggest stretch of shows in their young career, the group retired to a hotel to settle expenses. “We were about to make real money here,” Murr says. “Well, real money that’s split four ways plus taxes, so it’s not like real money. But still, it’s a big number.”

Q goes to sleep. He’s exhausted. So now the three remaining pals double- and triple-check the receipts, and Jeff starts writing their check, and he’s about to sign his name when he begins coughing again, then gives off two big hacks — “cha! cha!” — and a third that turns into a wheeze, like “ehhhhhhhhhhhh,” and then he flops face-first onto the table, motionless. “Ha ha,” Joe says. But Jeff is still. A panic sets in. Their tour manager is dead.

Q would know what to do here, but he’s gone. Instead, Murr shakes Jeff’s shoulder. Joe attempts the Heimlich, though poorly. And Sal picks up a hotel courtesy phone and screams, “nine one one!” “Everything happened so fast, so I was just screaming,” Sal says.

And then Jeff takes a gulp of air, like in a movie when someone is dragged out of a river. He sits up and continues writing the check as if nothing happened. Then he looks up to see Murr frozen next to him, Joe behind him and Sal with a phone in his hand, and he says, “What happened? Did I die again?” It turns out Jeff has a health condition that causes him to sometimes not get enough oxygen and pass out. But he’s fine, he says.

The guys are shaken. Jeff had just driven them from stop to stop, sometimes six hours at a stretch. They could have all actually died. But they finish up their work, then head up the elevator. Jeff gets off first, the doors close behind him, and the rest stand in a daze. A moment passes. “And I just wheeze — ‘eh-heeeeeeehh,’” Joe says. “And that’s it. We. Were. Done. The elevator opened to our floor and we just spilled out of it. We were punching each other, laughing, for 45 minutes in the hallway.”

They’ve retold this story for years, embellishing the details, finding new punch lines. Quick, forge the check — we earned that money! It’s a funny moment but, more important, an early sign of their point of view: They know that no matter what happens, if they can find joy in something, then so can everyone else. Everything follows from the team.

That even includes Jeff. He’s still their tour manager. “But do we let him drive us now? No — fuck, no!” Murr says. “There’s no way he’s driving us anywhere.”

 

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